Never underestimate the power of a simple greeting card to touch someone’s heart.
For 84-year-old Irene Joppich, the unexpected arrival of a handmade card in 1994 did just that as she faced testing times while volunteering in a remote outpost.
So much so, that it turned a hobby which began 30 years ago into a card ministry that she continues to this day.
It was the handmade card sent to Irene and her husband Oscar, who were facing difficulties during one of their mission stints in Papua New Guinea (PNG), that reminded them God was with them.
‘We received a handmade card from a congregation in South Australia stating that their congregation was praying for us’, she recalls.
The card had been posted to them by a Lutheran congregation whose members were not personally known to the couple. Church members had seen the Joppichs’ names on a prayer list of people serving in mission fields, in an international mission calendar. For Irene, that added to the blessing of knowing that God was working through people, who, despite being strangers, had still been praying for them.
‘You can imagine what an impact that had in our lives! That is the reason why I feel passionate about making greeting cards. I could see just how much a small card could mean to people who received one’, Irene says.
So the seed was sown. After the two-year placement from 1992 to 1994 as volunteers managing the Lutheran Guest House in Goroka, PNG, in the eastern highlands, they returned to Mount Gambier in South Australia’s south-east.
Their pastor at St Martin’s there asked whether Irene would be interested in starting a card ministry for the congregation, after finding out that it was her hobby.
She could not say ‘no’. ‘How it had touched my heart … I thought I could maybe do this and touch someone else’s heart too’, she says.
With the help of a number of like-minded women, Irene began the ministry.
God has used this ministry in many ways. While creating cards to celebrate the 25th anniversary and 60th birthday of a couple who had left the congregation, the Joppichs decided to hand-deliver the cards before going away on holiday.
On their return, they found out that not only had the couple returned to the church, but that the wife had joined the card-making group. ‘All thanks to God’, Irene says. ‘You can’t underestimate a little card.’
More than 13 years later, the ministry continues, with Irene and her team making a variety of cards from her and Oscar’s current base at Tanunda Lutheran Homes (TLH), in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
Lists of anniversaries and birthdays continue to be filled by Irene and her team of card-makers at Grace Lutheran Church, Tanunda.
Being blessed firsthand by receiving a card has continued to lead to beautiful opportunities to use card-giving to be a blessing to others.
Irene also helps residents at TLH, both those in independent living as well as hostel residents, to make birthday cards for their own personal use.
‘I’ve been given certain talents and believe I am to use them in the best way possible – to the glory of God.’
That sentiment is evident in a favourite song which is very special to both Irene and Oscar. All Together Everybody song number 296, ‘Here I am, Lord’, reminds us to go where God leads. Singing that song during a Sunday service in 1992 was what actually took Irene and Oscar to PNG in the first place.
‘We’d been asked to go back to PNG in ’92 just after we retired, but we still had a son living home, so were unsure. When we sang that song we were convinced we just had to go’, Irene says.
That was the second time the pair had lived in PNG. The first was in January 1958, three weeks after they were married. Oscar, a teacher, taught the children of Lutheran missionaries at the Katherine Lehmann School in Wau. The boarding school had 45 children, and Oscar was one of two teachers, while Irene gave piano lessons to the younger children, helped in the laundry and, in her second year there, helped supervise meals in the main kitchen on alternate weekends.
In 1996 they returned a third time to PNG, this time to Katherine Lehmann School in an attempt to have the school become an international school, under the control of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG, as overseas churches had pulled out of its management. Oscar was to be the principal.
Oscar’s teaching career also took them to many places across South Australia – with moves to Snowtown, Cummins, Swan Reach, Leigh Creek, Orroroo, Mannum, and Mount Gambier before their retirement to Tanunda.
They are parents to Phil, Michael and Tim, and are blessed with seven grandchildren, two great-grandsons and a great-granddaughter.
And, just as greeting cards can provide comfort in all times, the Joppichs continue to be comforted through God’s word. Irene’s favourite Bible verse, from 1 Peter 1:3 is, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.
Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor firstname.lastname@example.org
This feature story comes from The Lutheran May 2019. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.